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Feb 3, 2015 4:40 PM

Body Cameras for State Police? The idea is gaining traction at the State House

CONCORD - In the wake of the Ferguson, MO shooting of an unarmed, African American, support appears to be growing for making police wear body cameras while on the job.

Two House members - one a conservative Republican, the other a liberal Democrat - are joining forces on their two bills to only apply this mandate for the 380 troopers of the State Police. Rep. Kyle Tasker, R-Nottingham, said it's a simple matter of increasing accountability.

"What this is really about is it reestablishes credibility of the police in the eyes of the public and it gets rid of that he said, she said paradigm,'' Tasker said.

Rep. Robert Cushing, D-Hampton, said a key provision for making this a reality is to identify the way to pay for it.The cameras would cost about $210,000 while the annual expense to maintain them would be even more, $250,000 each year.Cushing had first proposed adding a $1 surcharge onto the cost of all criminal and civil court fines. This would only raise $150,000, not quite enough to get the financial job done.

Officials with Department of Safety and the New Hampshire Troopers Association opposed both bills.Legal Counsel David Hilts said some significant studies into the pros and cons of the body cams remain underway and now is not the proper time for New Hampshire to leap into this innovation.

"We think it's important we have a large body of detailed information for the purpose of shaping policy in light of knowledge about the performance,'' Hilts told the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

State prosecutor Elizabeth Woodcock said Attorney General Joseph Foster's office is taking no position on the mandate.

But Woodcock said the legislation is so tightly written it doesn't give the State Police director the discretion not to employ the body cameras if circumstances fail to warrant them.
Supporters also haven't thought out how to square this new mandate with a state law that prevents anyone including police to video or audio tape anyone without their position unless a judge has granted permission to eavesdrop.

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